International Criminal Court Says Myanmar to Respond on Rohingya Case by July 27

Myanmar is ignoring the request and denies atrocities seen by much of the outside world as ethnic cleansing.

Zaw Htay, director general of Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office, speaks to reporters during a news conference in Naypyidaw, May 23, 2018.

The International Criminal Court on Thursday issued a deadline for Myanmar to submit a written response to a request for a ruling on whether the tribunal should exercise jurisdiction over the country’s mass deportation of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh, though a government spokesman said the Southeast Asian nation has nothing to report on the issue.

Judges at the international tribunal based in The Hague, the Netherlands, have set a deadline on July 27 for Myanmar to respond to a prosecutor’s request made in April that the ICC should exercise jurisdiction over the matter.

Roughly 700,000 Rohingya fled their communities in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state during a crackdown by security forces targeting the members of the stateless minority group, whom Myanmar views as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The refugees now live in squalid displacement camps in southeastern Bangladesh.

“Considering that the crime of deportation is alleged to have commenced on the territory of Myanmar, the chamber deems it appropriate to seek observations from the competent authorities of Myanmar on the prosecutor’s request,” the ICC's decision issued on Thursday said.

The United Nations and other parties have accused Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide, though the government has denied widespread reports and credible evidence, including multiple satellite images of burned-out villages, that its soldiers committed atrocities against the Rohingya.

Instead, the government has defended the crackdown as a counterinsurgency against a militant Muslim group of “terrorists” that carried out deadly attacks on border guard stations and police outposts in northern Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017.

Zaw Htay, director general of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office, repeated the government’s previous assertion that the ICC cannot prosecute Myanmar because the country is not a member of the court.

“Because Myanmar is not an ICC member, the ICC can’t do anything to Myanmar, so we have nothing to say about it,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Friday, adding that the prosecutor has recognized uncertainty concerning the limits of the court’s jurisdiction.

'The main problem'

In April, Gambian lawyer and ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked ICC judges to rule on whether the court could exercise jurisdiction over the “alleged deportation” of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

At the time, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office expressed “serious concern” with the prosecutor’s statement, arguing that Bensouda’s assertion of the extension of jurisdiction under the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, did not apply because Myanmar is not a party to the treaty

“What the prosecutor is attempting to do is to override the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states in contrary to the principle enshrined in the U.N. Charter and recalled in the ICC’s Charter,” said a statement the office issued on April 13.

Though Myanmar has agreed to take back Rohingya refugees who want to return to Rakhine state and whose prior residency in the region can be verified, pressure from the international community has continued to grow with the United Nations and rights groups pushing officials to guarantee safe conditions for the returnees.

“The main problem is that no refugees have come back from Bangladesh though Myanmar is ready to take them back,” Zaw Htay said. “We have asked Bangladeshi authorities many times to send them back.”

“When they arrive back home, we have to do things such as clearing terrorists out of the region and creating a good situation for them to live without any problems,” he said, adding that Bangladesh must assist Myanmar in rooting out members of the Muslim  militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

“We have to find them, and Bangladesh has to work with us,” he said.

“This problem has come about because ARSA attacked police outposts,” he said. “Myanmar security forces launched a defensive counterattack [against them]. It is a nation’s right to do so, but the U.N. has accused us of violating human rights by using a lot of force during the crackdown.”

Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.